INTERVIEW: “Srinagar needs holistic urban planning”

Rough road in Srinagar

JRAFFIC in Srinagar is reaching prodigious proportions, with uncontrollable vehicle crossings from outside and outlying areas worsening the congestion scenario on the roads, a study by Journal of Emerging Technologies and Innovative Research (JETIR) reveals.

Transport is spreading its hydra-headed tentacles, research suggests, prompting commoners and pundits to blame the government for its failure to tackle the disorder.

“The volume of traffic on the roads of the city has doubled beyond its capacity”, indicates the survey of JETIR.

“The capacity of the 1.3 kilometer road between the radio station and Kohli Brothers in Regal Chowk is 1,200 vehicles, but more than 2,421 vehicles pass on the road leading to traffic jams.”

Similarly, the report notes, the capacity of the 0.7 kilometer road between Batamaloo and Bemina is 1,200 vehicles – “however, more than 3,146 vehicles pass on the road leading to traffic jams”.

In a recent interview with Kashmir ObserverSSP Traffic Srinagar, Muzaffar Ahmad Shah said the city’s traffic management is a coordinated effort involving the proactive role of the Department of Roads and Buildings (R&B) among others.

Apart from the traffic problem, the R&B also faces questions from the public regarding the rutted roads in Srinagar during the summer.

In conversation with Kashmir ObserverChief Engineer, R&B, Rafiq Ahmad Rafiq talks about the plight of roads and traffic in the capital of Kashmir.

Chief R&B Engineer Rafiq A Rafiq. KO photo by Auqib Javeed

Let’s start with the obvious: why hasn’t R&B fixed the bad roads in Srinagar yet?

Well, not all roads are bad in the city, but yes, some patches need fixing. In fact, soaring oil prices have delayed development activity. We’ve been in the bidding process since March, but the contractors weren’t comfortable with the pricing. We have therefore revised the rates and the problem has been solved.

It was the first time in Kashmir’s history that rates were revised in two years, which would usually take a decade. Thus, the bridges having finally been cleared, we launched a call for tenders for blacktopping in several areas of the city.

But Kashmir has little time for tarmacked roads. Work in most places has not yet started. When are you going to do it then? In winter ?

As I said, we started the bidding process in March, but there were no bidders due to rate issues. With revised rates, work has now begun.

Let me assure you that the macadamization of the roads only started during the summer season for the past two years and we finished it on time.

So, how many kilometers will be traveled in Kashmir this year?

First, let me tell you that R&B is not the only department responsible for road maintenance in Srinagar.

Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) is in charge of 1394 kilometers out of a total of 1758 kilometers of road section in Srinagar. They were supposed to do macadamization in the city last year, but due to some problems they couldn’t do it. Only 407 kilometers of road fall under R&B. And the rest, including workarounds, is up to the Beacon agency.

We usually macadamize 2000 kilometers every year, but this year, through various projects, we plan to macadamize more than 1600 kilometres.

But people have this complaint of not removing the crust from the road before the macadamization which makes the roads elevated. Why is this so?

Yes I agree. But we are still evolving and we don’t have such technologies to remove the crust in place and recycle it. But this technology will also be with us one day.

But the city’s potholes have been there for a few years. Poor roads in Natipora, Shalteng, Bemina, Qamarwari and other areas lead to massive traffic jams.

There is no dispute about this observation, but when we went blacktopping in Natipora last year, the locals forbade us to do so. They wanted a concrete road, which was not possible for us. We cannot modify a proposal in a very short time. Thus, the funds for this project have expired.

And yes, regarding the Shalteng section, you can apply to Border Roads Organization (BRO) – the designated agency for this.

So how many level dividers are built in the city?

Currently, two at-grade separators are under construction on the Bemina Highway. And the third, in Sanat Nagar, is under construction.

And what about Qamarwari Chowk?

Well, once the Noorbagh bridge is realigned, the Qamarwari chowk will be redesigned with a wide and hassle-free road.

Moreover, the volume of vehicles has increased considerably over the past decades, but the roads remain the same. Plans to expand the city’s roads?

You see, there has to be a balanced process. The transport system must evolve. Until you have an efficient public transport system, you cannot keep pace with the number of vehicles. But yes, building roads in an already built place is not so easy, it has a huge cost.

Are you saying that Srinagar lacks proper town planning?

Yes, there is a need for holistic urban planning. Everything that happened in the past was theoretical in nature. Urban planning is a subject that deals with pockets. It takes pouches as surgical units.

Moreover, there is no progress in the 4-lane boulevard road project even after 11 years. Why is this so?

In fact, the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) is the lead agency for the road. They had to carry out an environmental impact study (EIS). Once they finalize it, they will.

  • Syed Burhan contributed to this interview

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed